- Enantiomers are molecules that are like a left and right hand, and chemical engineers need to separate them for drug manufacturing.
- A team of scientists from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed a system to distinguish one enantiomer from its twin using metal-containing polymers.
- Their development has implications for the drug industry, making it easier to determine the ratio of enantiomers in a given drug and eventually lead to more effective methods of separating them.
Chemical engineers often struggle to recognize and separate enantiomers, which are molecules that are like a left and right hand. These molecules have almost identical compositions that mirror each other, but they often have very different properties. In drug manufacturing, it is essential to control the ratio of these enantiomers as they can cause different effects. Scientists from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed a system to electrochemically distinguish one enantiomer from its twin.
Their system has significant implications for the drug manufacturing industry as it would allow drug developers to more easily determine the ratio of enantiomers in a given drug, leading to more effective methods of separating them. More than half of the top 500 drugs used in the United States are enantiomeric, making their system incredibly important.
To effectively distinguish one enantiomer from its mirrored counterpart, the researchers used metal-containing polymers, referred to as “metallopolymers,” that have been used for energy storage, water treatment, and selective separations. By adding a chiral center to the metallopolymers, researchers can use them to electrochemically sense two enantiomeric molecules.
The researchers have created a class of chiral metallopolymers that can serve as a platform for many enantioselective studies going forward. Furthermore, the study shows a phenomenon referred to as supramolecular chirality, in which the polymer displays more chirality than the redox-center building blocks themselves. This supramolecular chirality amplifies the sensing effect, making their system more efficient than past sensing methods.
While their newly developed sensor method is still considered proof of concept, the researchers have already identified their next steps. They aim to translate the sensing and recognition properties for separation to create devices and better materials to fully purify enantiomers.
This research has been published in Advanced Functional Materials, and the paper can be accessed online at https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202301545.